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Nutrition advocates urge Congress to turn farm bill into ‘healthier food bill’

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 11-Jun-2012

2012 Farm Bill

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and about 70 food and nutrition experts have urged Congress to turn the 2012 Farm Bill into a ‘healthier food bill’ – by cutting crop insurance subsidies and investing in nutrition programs, among other measures.

The Senate voted 90-8 last Thursday to advance a version of the farm bill, which is due to be debated this week, and would set agriculture and nutrition policy for the next five years. The bill is expected to cost $969bn over the next ten years, with about 80% of that going toward SNAP (Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps).

The letter ’s signatories applaud proposed incentives for fruit and vegetable purchases, scaling up local production and distribution of healthy foods, and more marketing and research support for fruit, nut and vegetable farmers. However, they claim that the bill falls short of the public’s expectations for a farm bill that makes access to affordable and nutritious foods a top priority.

“Although the committee proposal includes important reforms to the commodity title, we are deeply concerned that it would continue to give away subsidies worth tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest commodity crop growers, insurance companies, and agribusinesses even as it drastically underfunds programs to promote the health and food security of all Americans, invest in beginning and disadvantaged farmers, revitalize local food economies and protect natural resources,” the letter reads.

Signatories include celebrity authors like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, as well as representatives of food and nutrition advocacy groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Center for Food Safety.

A particular area of contention is the proposed $9bn-a-year crop insurance program, which the letter’s authors claim mostly would benefit producers of five big commodity crops (corn, soy, cotton, rice and wheat).

“Meanwhile, millions of consumers lack access to affordable fruits and vegetables, with the result that the diets of fewer than five percent of adults meet the USDA’s daily nutrition guidelines,” the letter says.

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